Avenues of Transportation
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Sternwheelers became a vital part of Yukon transportation. Yukon River sternwheelers were designed to carry heavy cargoes downstream on a light draft and make the return trip upstream with lighter loads.

Pilots and captains had to be highly skilled to navigate their vessels through the rocks, rapids and other hazards of the river.

Unlike the much wider sidewheelers found in the southern United States, the upper river sternwheelers could navigate the narrow rivers of the Yukon. The wheel also helped in negotiating narrow channels, sharp turns and swift currents. Their relatively flat hulls allowed them to operate in shallow water, and they could berth almost anywhere along the river without a dock or wharf.

“Steamboating under difficulties”

Sternwheeler captains had to contend with a range of hazards, including shifting channels, bars, reefs and shallow water.

Loading Wood

Burning Wood

Almost all upper river steamboats burned wood. Travelling upstream, a sternwheeler burned one and a half to two cords per hour. On a downstream trip boats used only a small amount of wood for steering or reversing.

Vessels usually made two stops travelling downriver and five to seven going upriver. Wood camps were scattered along the length of the river every 50 or 100 miles. Boats usually took on 10-20 cords at a time; loading the wood took about an hour.

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S.S. Yukoner

S.S. Yukoner makes its way upstream though Five Finger Rapids.

Yukon Archives, MacBride Museum collection, #4062